In the AJC's Georgia blog, Tim Tucker takes a final look at some of the numbers for the season and where the Bulldogs rank. Georgia's penalties and lack of sacks were Tim's focus, but he added this note that I found interesting:
And one more thing that jumps out at me from the final NCAA stats: The teams that played for the BCS title — Oklahoma and Florida — finished the season as the nation’s top two teams in turnover margin. Oklahoma gained 23 more turnovers than it lost, and Florida gained 22 more than it lost. Georgia finished 73rd in turnover margin, losing three more than it gained for the season.
Now, it's no surprise that teams with a lot more take-aways than give-aways tend to do well, but those fumbles and interceptions don't just happen in a vaccuum. In other words, Florida and Oklahoma had appealing turnover ratios because they were good teams; they weren't good teams because of their strong turnover ratios.
Georgia, on the other hand, managed to win 10 games despite a negative turnover differential that ranked the Dawgs in the bottom half of DI. That certainly doesn't excuse the defensive problems Georgia had this year, but clearly the Dawgs' D wasn't always put in the best position for success.
Of course, the other side of the equation is the fact that the D did a poor job of creating turnovers. Reshad Jones was the only member of the secondary to intercept a pass all year (DeMarcus Dobbs was second on the team in picks!) and the defense as a whole recovered just five fumbles. Those are dreadful numbers considering the lack of quality quarterbacks Georgia played this season.
I think the lack of turnovers, however, can be directly related to the first two stats Tim mentions in his blog: Penalties and sacks.
After all, Georgia's numbers don't include the fumble it recovered on Alabama's first drive of the game that was negated by a personal foul call on Jarius Wynn. Or the Prince Miller interception that could have swung the momentum for Georgia against Florida that was also negated by a roughing the passer penalty against Wynn. (Or, for that matter, the interception by Asher Allen against Arizona State that was negated by a penalty.) None of those plays would have put the Bulldogs into the upper echelon of the national rankings, but had they ended differently, they certainly could have resulted in Georgia finishing the year 12-1 rather than 10-3.
The bigger issue in the turnover department, however, was the lack of a consistent pass rush from the front four. As bad as Mackenzi Adams or Nick Stephens were, even they can find a safe option downfield if they have all day in the pocket. Moreover, if the defense is forced to blitz in order to get pressure, that's (at least) one less defender who might pick off a pass.
Obviously sacks are not the only measure of defensive pressure, but the numbers illustrate how crucial getting to the quarterback is in creating turnovers. Of the 20 teams with the fewest sacks nationally, seven are also in the bottom 20 in take-aways and 14 have even or negative turnover differentials. The ripple effect actually goes even further, as seven of those 20 teams made coaching changes this year, too.
(NOTE: The interesting exception to this is Buffalo, which finished with just 14 sacks in 14 games -- 112th nationally -- but managed to finish third in the country in turnover margin while racking up 33 takeaways.)OK, so maybe none of this is particularly groundbreaking, but I think it's worth noting that, while Willie Martinez may be coaching for his job next year, his success will largely be dictated by how much progress Demarcus Dobbs and Justin Houston can make and how quickly Cornelius Washington and Toby Jackson come along.